Aseries of terror attacks have rocked France ever since satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo republished caricatures of Prophet Muhammad in September, the latest being the murder of three persons in a Nice church on Thursday. Provocative as ever, Charlie Hebdo had taken the controversial step amid the start of the trial into the 2015 carnage in which two al-Qaida extremists, angered by the caricatures, had barged into its newsroom and killed 12 persons. What has further enraged the Muslim world is the tough stand taken by French President Emmanuel Macron, who has defended Charlie Hebdo’s freedom of expression and dubbed Islam as a religion which is ‘experiencing a crisis’. While paying homage to a teacher who was beheaded recently after he showed the cartoons to his class, Macron had asserted that France would not renounce its freedoms.
Though Charlie Hebdo — whose precursor was aptly called Hara-kiri Hebdo — is notorious for going too far at times, the use of violence and terror to stifle free speech is condemnable. The publication of anything outrageous, even if it’s considered blasphemous by a community, can’t justify bloodshed. Making things worse are rabble-rousers like Malaysia’s former PM Mahathir Mohamad, who has said that Muslims have the right to ‘kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past’. Ironically, such statements are fuelling Islamophobia. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other leaders have also fanned the flames by launching personal attacks on Macron, drawing sharp criticism from France’s old ally India, which has objected to the ‘violation of the most basic standards of international discourse’.
In this surcharged atmosphere fraught with dangerous implications for the whole world, it is imperative for the international community to speak in one voice against terrorism in any form. Being a sovereign, democratic republic, France — which has a Muslim population of about 9 per cent — is at liberty to take strict measures for the sake of its internal security. But it can also explore a middle path, taking a cue from Russia’s reaction that it is unacceptable to kill people, but also wrong to insult the feelings of religious believers.